Collaborative Program Offers Hope to Cancer Patients Suffering from Skin Related Conditions
Multidisciplinary approach fosters patient care and research opportunities
Through a unique partnership between Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s Department of Dermatology and the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University, cancer patients and survivors have an effective option to manage dramatic skin and eye conditions resulting from treatments.
“The Cancer Skin Care Program is truly distinctive in its ability to bring together physicians from these two specialty areas,” said Mario Lacouture, MD, Director of the Cancer Skin Care Program “Enhanced communication between these disciplines expands the opportunities for patient care, education and research.”
The program is the first of its kind in the nation designed to treat skin reactions frequently caused by anticancer therapies such as chemotherapy and radiation. Together, physicians in this multidisciplinary program focus on early diagnosis and treatment of these conditions to ensure patients don’t have to interrupt or discontinue lifesaving cancer treatments. Patients enrolled in the program benefit from a rapid referral process that expedites direct evaluations by dermatologists allowing care to begin within days.
“This program offers patients the chance to manage painful conditions often thought to be unavoidable side effects of cancer treatments,” said Jyoti Patel, MD, Oncology. “A dedicated referral line ensures patients are quickly made aware of their options for treatment and can begin a full continuum of care almost immediately.”
In addition to treating side effects caused by conventional cancer treatments, the program offers clinical trials through the Skin and Eye Reactions to Inhibitors of EGFR and kinaseS (SERIES) Clinic, a program specifically for patients undergoing newer targeted cancer therapies. Physicians from dermatology, oncology and ophthmalogy have teamed together to study the skin and eye effects of this new class of drugs, which are often used to treat colon, lung and kidney cancers. While these drugs minimize severe side effects associated with traditional chemotherapy, patients are more susceptible to facial acne-like rashes, swelling and dry, irritated skin. Many of these patients also experience abnormal eyelash growth, dry eye and other eye disorders that may cause significant discomfort and blurred vision.
In addition to these physical side effects, it’s important to consider the psychosocial effects of these often life-altering skin and eye conditions.
“Many patients who experience chemotherapy-induced skin reactions don’t want to leave their homes, and some would rather stop their chemotherapy than live with the discomfort and anxiety,” said Dr. Lacouture. “Improving their quality of life is a paramount concern.”
Cancer patient Christine Sienkiewicz suffered from a painful, facial acne-like rash caused by the chemotherapy drug she was taking to treat her pancreatic cancer. Christine wishes that more people suffering from these conditions knew the options available to them.
“Like myself, many patients are told these conditions are an unfortunate side-effect we have to deal with,” she said. “It has been a tremendous comfort to work with the physicians in the Cancer Skin Care Program who understand what I’m going through and acted quickly to find a treatment regime that was specific to my condition.”
Through education and research, physicians involved in the Cancer Skin Care Program and the SERIES Clinic aim to provide cancer patients and survivors with the opportunity to resume as normal of a life as possible. This includes a comprehensive approach to all aspects of their cancer care and focusing on management of skin and eye conditions alongside cancer treatments to ensure maximum quality of life.